Did you grow up watching the Pokémon animated television series? Or spend long afternoons engrossed in the video games? Pokémon is an enduring cultural phenomenon that emerged from 1990s Japan and has since captivated millions of people worldwide.
If you’ve ever considered collecting Pokémon cards, and possibly learning how to play the Pokémon Trading Card Game, then this guide is for you.
It covers the basic rules of the game and offers tips on how to build a solid deck. It then discusses rare and valuable Pokémon cards (some with 5-figure values!) and advises you on how to store and sell any valuable cards you might have.
Read on to go from beginner collector to confident Pokémon Trainer.
Why collect Pokémon cards
You might decide to collect Pokémon cards for any number of reasons. Perhaps because…
- They’re cool! Each card represents a fictional creature with a unique name, appearance, and set of skills for you to appreciate.
- You like Pokémon in general. Maybe you like playing the video games or you’re always glued to Pokémon Go. The collectible cards are yet another way to participate in the Pokémon fandom.
- You want to be the very best, like no one ever was…The Trading Card Game is a fun challenge that lets you test your skill as a Pokémon trainer against opponents.
Some people simply create personal collections because they enjoy the Pokémon universe and like to learn about the different Pokémon. Others collect cards so that they can play the Pokémon Trading Card Game, either casually or competitively. What you want to do with your collection is up to you!
What is the Pokémon Trading Card Game?
The Pokémon Trading Card Game (or TCG) emerged in 1996, and it’s still going strong decades later. This collectible card game is based on the Pokémon universe created by Satoshi Tjiri and artistically designed by Ken Sugimori, which features dozens of fictional creatures all with their own unique strengths, skills, and abilities.
Human Pokémon Trainers try to “catch ‘em all,” as the saying goes. Trainers catch Pokémon (with a Poké Ball) and are able to give them commands and to send them into combat against other Pokémon.
This is the basic concept behind the TCG. Each player acts as a Pokémon trainer, in control of various Pokémon which they can deploy against each other. Pokémon are represented on cards, so your card deck will contain a number of different Pokémon. Remember that each individual Pokémon has its own distinctive abilities.
Once a Pokémon has suffered sufficient damage in battle, it is knocked out, and the opposing player gets a Prize card. Your goal is basically to knock out your opponent’s Pokémon and draw Prize cards.
Basic game play
Players usually flip a coin to determine who goes first. You’ll both shuffle your decks and then draw seven cards. Player 1 will introduce one Basic Pokémon onto the field—no attacking on the first turn.
The Pokémon that is sent out onto the field is the Active Pokémon. It will be the one attacking and being attacked.
Players can also maintain a “Bench” of up to five additional Basic Pokémon. These bench cards may be introduced or rotated onto the field over the course of the game.
What is a Basic Pokémon? As the name suggests, these are fundamental, essential Pokémon for gameplay. If your initial hand has no Basic Pokémon, then you’ll need to reshuffle and draw again, as you need at least one to get started. Your opponent is permitted to draw an additional card in this circumstance.
Some cards are Evolved Pokémon. These are more advanced, “evolved” versions of Basic Pokémon. Generally speaking, these cannot be played right onto the Bench. Rather, you should have the basic version of a given Pokémon first, and then place the corresponding evolved version on top.
Each Pokémon card contains crucial information, including the name and type of the creature, the number of Health Points (HP), and the nature of attacks by that Pokémon.
Once the game is underway, players can perform actions such as:
- Playing Basic Pokémon
- Upgrading to an Evolved Pokémon
- Sending an Active Pokémon to the Bench and replacing it with another card
- Playing Energy cards
- Playing Trainer cards
Energy cards provide the fuel for conducting attacks. There are different types of Energy, such as Water, Lightning, Grass, Fire, and so on. Basically, an attack will come at a particular “cost,” requiring an certain amount and type of energy, which you pay using an Energy card.
Trainer cards allow you to perform useful activities like healing damage to your Pokémon or recovering previously discarded cards.
Honestly, the easiest way to learn to play is to get out there and start playing! If you have friends who are already familiar with the game, they’ll be invaluable in helping you learn the ropes.
Alternatively, check if there is a League in your area. Leagues are organized groups of Pokémon fans and TCG players who meet up to enjoying Pokémon battles. They tend to be quite friendly, and there should be Professors or other experienced players who can help new players out.
You can also check YouTube, which has endless tutorials—I really like this 5-part series.
How to get started with deck building
Okay, so now you’ve learned the basic rules of the game and want to start collecting cards and building an awesome deck. How, exactly, do you set about doing this?
One of the simplest ways to get started is to use a pre-constructed deck. There are three basic kinds:
- World Champion
- Battle Arena
Theme decks are sold and distributed widely, and once you buy one you’re ready to play. The main downside is that they’re usually not the best decks in the world. They tend to have lots of Pokémon and Energy cards but not enough Trainer cards.
Why is this a problem? Remember that you can only ever use 6 Pokémon cards at once (1 Active, 5 Benched). So if you keep drawing Pokémon after Pokémon, your hand will be full of cards you can’t use.
Plus, you can typically only play one Energy per turn, so there’s no need for tons of Energy cards in your deck.
A theme deck is fine if you just want something simple to learn how to play, but it won’t take you very far.
World Champion decks are designed to replicate the decks of TCG champions—so they’re obviously great decks! The catch? They’re identified by their silver borders and marked backs. You can enjoy playing with them at home or at casual events, but you’re not allowed to use them at official competitions.
Finally, Battle Arena decks are probably your best bet if you want to buy a pre-constructed deck. They generally contain a good mix of Pokémon, Energy, and Trainer cards.
Building your own deck
What if you want to build own customized deck? While some people like the ease and convenience of pre-constructed decks, countless others prefer a more personal touch.
This Reddit Wiki is a great resource for building a beginner deck. It offers specific recommendations on the cards that should form the core of your deck, and outlines how you can develop a strong theme (such as Healing or Energy Acceleration).
Part of building a good deck means finding balance among players. For an enjoyable game, two opposing beginner decks should be relatively well balanced and evenly matched. One should not have the clear upper hand all the time. This is something to think about if you tend to play against the same opponents regularly.
Where to buy cards
Many collectors and TCG players find themselves buying individual cards (or “singles”) to build and supplement their decks. Cards are often bought and sold on eBay and on the subreddit /r/pkmntcgtrades, though you should carefully vet each seller before bidding or buying.
Rare and valuable cards
Some of the older Pokémon cards have reached true collectible status due to their rarity. If you’ve been collecting since the 1990s, you might be surprised to find that a few of your cards are now worth astronomical amounts.
Which cards rank among the most desirable?
- Trophy Pikachu Trainer: “Trophy” cards are awarded to tournament winners at official Pokémon competitions. Very, very few of these cards are printed, since they’re reserved only for top-placing competitors, and many recipients of course never sell them. There are various kinds of trophy cards stemming from different competitions and different years, but the most valuable of these trophy cards date back to Japanese tournaments from 1997 to 1999.
- Pikachu Illustrator: This 1998 trophy card only exists in 39 (or fewer) copies. It was awarded to the winners of Japan’s CoroCoro Comic Illustration Contest. Getting your hands on one of these will take a lot of luck and a lot of money.
- Tropical Mega Battle: In 1999, the Pokémon TCG tournament was held in Hawaii, and 12 of these promo Trainer cards were printed for some of the lucky people able to attend. Its rarity has led this card to be sold for five figures.
- Holographic Shadowless First Edition Charizard: This is a cool card, thanks in part to its holographic appearance, which increases the value—up to around $12,000.
- Holographic Shadowless First Edition Venusaur: Another card featuring a holographic appearance, and it’s also shadowless. Though not worth quite as much as Charizard, Venusaur is still quite rare and in-demand and commands a respectable price of around $6500.
- Misprinted Fossil Krabby: In this case, a simple misprint has made this card unusual and led people to seek it out. High demand has led to high value, estimated at $5000.
- Charizard Holofoil: Produced in 1995, this card has a highly distinctive appearance, featuring an image of Charizard against a holographic background. Its design sets it apart aesthetically from other Pokémon cards, and since it’s a special edition item, it’s also rare.
What drives the high prices of these and other super-valuable Pokémon cards? In a word: Rarity. The one factor uniting all of these cards is that they only exist in limited quantities.
Unsure if a card is real or fake? Compare its appearance to a card that is known to be real. Luckily, it’s quite easy to find images of authentic Pokémon cards on the internet! You can compare images of real cards to any cards of questionable authenticity before you decide to buy.
PkmnCards is a good resource for doing this. Search for a given card to see what the font, symbols, and other design elements should look like on a real card.
Storing your cards
If you do end up acquiring rare or valuable cards, make sure to store them properly so they retain their value.
Buying some soft plastic card sleeves is an easy and affordable way to protect your cards. You can also opt for sturdier sleeves to prevent holographic cards from warping. Watch this video tutorial for advice on the best storage methods.
Pokémon cards can be “graded” to determine how pristine and well-preserved they are. Flaws like worn away corners and surface scratches are common in cards that get a lot of use, but they decrease the card’s value.
This isn’t a huge deal with common cards, especially if you’re a casual TCG player. However, it’s important to be aware of this if you’re collecting rare and valuable cards.
Selling your cards
How can you tell if your cards are valuable enough to be worth selling? First, check to see if a card is classified as rare, as denoted by a star in the card’s bottom right corner. If your card is not rare, it is probably only worth a few cents, maybe up to a quarter.
If a card is rare but not holographic, then it may be worth a little more, up to about a dollar.
If your card is both rare and holographic, then you might want to look into the market value. The simplest method for approximating value is to search for your specific card and seeing recent prices reached on sites like eBay.
The Pokémon universe
In addition to collecting cards and playing the Trading Card Game, there are so many ways to become involved in Pokémon. If you like Pokémon cards and the TCG, then you may also be interested in:
Pokémon originated from role-playing video games, debuting in Japan in 1996 as Pocket Monsters Red and Pocket Monsters Green and elsewhere known as Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue. Players move the protagonist through a fictional place called Kanto as he strives to catch Pokémon and train them for battle.
The Pokémon video game series is one of the most popular of all time. New games continue to be released, and as of 2019, the series is in its eighth generation.
This anime television series began airing in Tokyo in 1997, a testament to the quick success of the video games. The series centers on protagonist Ash Ketchum (or Satoshi, as he is known in Japan).
He has numerous adventures as he travels the world, catches Pokémon, befriends Brock and Misty, faces down the villainous Team Rocket, and strives to become a Pokémon Master.
It’s definitely an entertaining show, and I recommend giving it a watch! Ash and his companion Pikachu are two of the most iconic and well-known animated characters of our time.
In addition to the animated television series, there are also over 20 Pokémon movies! Most of these films are also animated and are directed by Kunihiko Yuyama and Tetsuo Yajima.
A live-action film called Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is slated for release in May 2019. The basic plot: When private investigator Harry Goodman disappears, it’s up to his former Pokémon partner Detective Pikachu and his son Tim to solve the mystery and bring him home. As someone who loves both Pokémon and mysteries, I am definitely looking forward to this one.
This mobile game took the world by storm when it was released in 2016. Within its first several months, it was downloaded over 500 million times.
The game involves a map-based version of augmented reality, tracking you via GPS and showing you the real-world locations of virtual Pokémon. Players must physically walk around to visit virtual PokéStops and Pokémon Gyms and catch new Pokémon.
Many players credit the game with encouraging them to spend more time outside and get exercise.
If you do download the game, however, make sure to pay attention to your surroundings as you walk! There have been some reports of accidents caused by distracted Pokémon Go players.
The world of Pokémon is vast, creative, and always evolving. There are now over 800 Pokémon species. The creative designers of these fictional monsters draw on a wide array of inspiration, incorporating the natural world, mythology, real animals, and pure imagination.
Have fun out there, and good luck in your quest to catch ‘em all!